Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has front-loaded its 2023 cards with newcomers, and the traditional surge of pull-out merchants has only exacerbated the trend. On this edition of “New Blood” — the sport’s biggest demand on my time outside of live play-by-play — we check out a quintet of finishers who will debut at UFC Vegas 67 this weekend (Sat., Jan. 14, 2023) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As always, all episodes of the most recent Contender Series can be found on ESPN+.
Weight Class: Middleweight
Record: 10-2 (10 KO)
Notable Victories: Kelles Albuquerque
A successful war with Kelles Albuquerque earned Ribeiro the Future MMA Middleweight title and his fifth consecutive victory. This led him to Contender Series, where he flattened Ivan Valenzuela with one punch just 25 seconds into the first round.
Ribeiro’s approach is very straightforward: power leg kicks and feet-planted, chin-up, from-the-hip bombs. If you’re inside his punching range, he’ll throw haymakers at you without regard for pacing or defense. He’s got enough power to make it work more often than not, as that 100 percent knockout rate can tell you.
When he can’t just bulldoze people, though, cracks start to appear. His terrible cage awareness leads him to back himself to the fence with clockwork regularity, that bolt-upright and immobile punching stance makes him open to takedowns, he can’t break out of clinches very well, he’s easy to hit, and he’s only got about 2.5 rounds of gas in him. The 40-year-old Albuquerque was giving him the business with clinches, dirty boxing, straight punches and takedowns until his body finally gave out late in the fourth frame. Though Ribeiro showed the mental fortitude to get through adversity, he lacks the technical know-how to do it against higher-level opposition.
At 30 years old, I doubt he’ll be able to make the adjustments needed to become an actual player at 185, especially since he weighed in less than 182 pounds on Contender Series. He’s the kind of fighter you throw against strikers just to see what happens, not somebody to carefully manage on a rise through the ranks. He’ll at least get the slugfest he wants in his debut against Abdul Razak Alhassan, though “Judo Thunder’s” speed, experience, power and wrestling look like more than Ribeiro can handle.
Mateus “Chinczyk” Rebecki
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 16-1 (8 KO, 6 SUB)
Notable Victories: Rodrigo Lidio, Marion Ziolkowski
Undefeated since falling in his fourth professional fight, Rebecki claimed the FEN Lightweight title in 2018 and made seven successful defenses before jumping ship to Contender Series. There, he choked out Rodrigo Lidio to earn himself a UFC contract.
Rebecki is a 5’7” bowling ball of a Lightweight possessed of vicious punching power, impressive wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills that earned him two wins in Poland’s ADCC tournaments. On the feet, he’s a twitchy, relentless pursuer with dynamite in his left hand. Though he used to be somewhat of a miniature Southpaw Hendo (shuffling forward and launching overhand lefts as hard as he could) he’s begun to develop a reasonably-rounded kickboxing game with head movement and roundhouse kicks to support the Hail Mary overhands.
He still has a habit of dipping to his left too much, which past opponents have tried to punish with head kicks and flying knees, but he seems a lot more aware of the shots coming his way and a lot more versatile in his approach. The addition of kicks also makes it easier to cut off the cage, which he struggled with before.
The big explosive flurries, while capable of producing finishes on their own, serve to set up his level changes. He’s got a particular fondness for high-crotch single-legs, though he also showed off an impressive slam on Lidio. Once on top, he can carve through a guard like it’s nothing, hunting for either his preferred crucifix ground-and-pound finish or a neck. His squeeze is strong enough to force a tap even with a bad angle and no hooks, as we saw against Lidio.
He’s also got enough cardio to fight like this in the championship rounds.
There’s really not much to complain about — he’s got the athleticism and technical base to be a player even in an insanely deep UFC Lightweight division. The only real complaints I can think of are that dipping issue and his short 66-inch reach. He’s fast, hits hard and he grapples amazingly well. This signing was long overdue.
He’ll take on fellow newcomer Nick Fiore, a decorated grappler himself. Though I’m dreadfully short on recent footage of Fiore, Rebecki’s punching power, wrestling and physical strength should let him dominate.
Weight Class: Lightweight
Record: 6-0 (2 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
A two-year amateur career saw Fiore rack up a 5-1 record, all wins via finish. He’s been similarly efficient in the professional ranks, stopping all six of his opponents in the first round.
He steps in for Omar Morales on around two weeks’ notice.
I’ll be honest: there’s practically no footage of Fiore’s professional career out there. Most of his fights took place in a regional New England promotion called Combat Zone, which hasn’t uploaded fight footage in more than two years, and his one stint in CES was too low on the undercard to get saved to Fight Pass. The one professional fight I found was his debut against 15-91 Jay Ellis, wherein he flicked out a few kicks, hit an easy reactive double-leg, took his back and choked him out in 50 seconds.
All I can really tell you is that he’s a Renzo Gracie black belt and trains with New England-based standouts Rob Font and Calvin Kattar. It’s a solid pedigree, so it’s not too appalling that he got signed to UFC with such a weak body of work.
As I said above, though, he’s screwed against Rebecki. The Pole has far more experience, has beaten far better competition, and is an ADCC-caliber grappler in his own right. In short, this will end poorly for Fiore.
Mateus “Bocao” Mendonca
Weight Class: Bantamweight
Record: 10-0 (3 KO, 4 SUB, 3 DEC)
Notable Victories: Ashiek Ajim, Pedro Nobre
Mendonca — the latest Chute Boxe Diego Lima-trained product to enter the Octagon — capped off his run on the Brazilian circuit with a decision over UFC veteran, Pedro Nobre. A nearly two-year layoff followed, which he ended by smashing Ashiek Ajim in 48 seconds on Contender Series.
“Bocao” circa 2020 wore his Chute Boxe DNA on his sleeve. He’d stalk forward, casually switching stance, and throw whatever came to mind at the moment. The one-two combination seemed to be his favorite strike, though he was happy to throw heavy single roundhouses or spinning/flying techniques if the fancy struck him.
He wore his youth and inexperience on the other sleeve. On top of the lack of setups inherent in the kitchen sink approach, he’d leave his chin up, try to lean away from punches without bringing up his hands, and fail to protect himself while throwing. He compensated with decent wrestling and a determined clinch game to change course anytime things stopped going his way. To his credit, his technique was solid, and he even managed an ultra-slick back take on Nobre after slamming him to the mat.
He wasn’t quite as successful off of his back, though he did manage to escape when Nobre postured up to drop bombs.
The Ajim fight was too short to demonstrate whether he’s improved his grappling in the last two years, but I did like what I saw in that brief window of striking. He seemed much more aware of distance, both in kicking from outside of punching range and in back stepping away from Ajim’s punches. His kicks also appeared less haphazard and that one-two combination he loves was ultra crisp.
If he continues to polish his game, which I fully expect him to with training partners like Charles Oliveira and Allan Nascimento, he’s got the potential to make a splash. The durability, aggression and versatility are there. His UFC run will likely start off on the wrong foot, though, as he’s fighting the ultra-talented Javid Basharat. Mendonca should at least make a good fight out of it, even if he can’t keep up with Basharat’s striking.
“Slick” Nick Aguirre
Weight Class: Featherweight
Record: 7-0 (3 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: None
Aguirre put together a perfect (6-0) amateur career over the span of 15.5 months to set the stage for his professional career. He’s yet to taste defeat in the paid ranks, dispatching all but one opponent inside of one round.
He steps in for Isaac Dulgarian on less than one week’s notice.
Like Dulgarian, analyzing Aguirre is made difficult by how quickly he ends fights. Plus, Colosseum Combat has yet to post footage of the one time he went past the three-minute mark, so my options are limited.
Based on what I’ve seen, he’s a wrestler above all else, often shooting a nice double-leg within seconds of the opening bell. He tends to play heavy on top, not really posturing up for any of his arm punches until he can get into a dominant position. He is, however, very opportunistic; he took Shawn Johnson’s back as soon as the latter went to his knees and caught Tyler Dehaven in what looks like his signature move, a Charles Oliveira-style anaconda choke.
What he’s shown of his standup comprises almost entirely one-two combinations. He’s not particularly quick or powerful, but he doesn’t seem lost on the feet, and he at least understands the value of setting up a level change with feints or strikes.
Overall, Aguirre looks decent enough, though nothing especially stands out or suggests he’ll enjoy this same level of success against real competition. He’ll definitely struggle with another stout wrestler in Daniel Argueta, lacking the wrestling pedigree or dynamism that made Dulgarian such a live dog.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 67 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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